Cognitive Overload

I have recently received a large amount of work from my students of international business that is very messy, very badly organised – pages in the wrong order, tables not fitting on the page, even pages upside down and at 90 degrees. I have been wondering why. Most of the students I am thinking of were second or third language speakers of English and there seemed to be an inverse correlation between English language competence and quality of presentation of work , but I do not think it is direct. It has reminded me of several other experiences I have had and I wonder if there is a connection. Continue reading

ESP and Common Sense

I remember a number of years ago, after a morning of evaluating student oral presentations with a colleague and wondering why they sometimes said strange things, I mentioned that it seemed to me that people lost their common sense when they were speaking a language they were not very confident in. My colleague – who was a good linguist and had never experiences such issues – disagreed. Continue reading

Failure to write

A group of students wrote something for me at the beginning of the semester. They were scientists and their lecturer wanted to see how well they could write so if they needed to develop their writing, we could start early in the year and not wait until they had submitted their first assessed assignments. Much of the writing was not very good and the lecturer was determined to arrange writing classes as soon as possible. I decided I’d try to talk to the students before we made decisions to see what I could find out about their experiences of writing. Continue reading

What is a blog?

I was recently asked to work with a group of students on blogging. The students had been asked to write a weekly assessed blog of between 500 and 700 words and were having difficulty.

As I thought about it, I realised that I did not have enough information about what the students were expected to do, and neither – I think – did the students. Continue reading

How to write – What to write.

I’ve often quoted Frank Smith when discussing writing.  In Writing and the writer, Smith distinguishes between “composition” and “transcription” in writing. “Composition” is deciding what you want to say, and “transcription” is what you have to do to say it. His advice is “The rule is simple: Composition and transcription must be separated, and transcription must come last. It is asking too much of anyone, and especially of students trying to improve all aspects of their writing ability, to expect that they can concern themselves with polished transcription at the same time that they are trying to compose. The effort to concentrate on spelling, handwriting, and punctuation at the same time that one is struggling with ideas and their expression not only interferes with composition but creates the least favorable situation in which to develop transcription skills as well” (Smith, 1982, p. 24).

After watching Juzo Itami’s 1995 film Shizukana seikatsu (A quiet life) recently I decided to read  Nobel prize winner Kenzaburu Oe – on whose novel the film is based. In his novel The Changeling, he deals with a similar situation: Continue reading

Where Next for EAP?

There has been much discussion recently about what exactly students have to do in order to succeed in HE. Gillett & Hammond (2009), for example, identified a range of tasks that need to be managed in order to succeed and Nesi & Gardner (2012) looked in great detail  at the genres which students need to work with. This has been a very useful contribution to the development of EAP.  However, Feak (2011) identifies the difficulties that some students might have with these genres in multidisciplinary degrees and courses.  Furthermore, my  recent experience working with students from one discipline, business students, has shown that many of the assignments that the students have to produce are much more complicated and not so easily classified.  I’d like to show some examples of these and ask how we can best help our insessional students to deal with them.

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Feedback – Who is it for?

I was visiting a colleague’s office recently and he showed me a piece of student work from another university where he was an external examiner. The piece of work was covered with red ticks, crosses, under-linings, crossings out and illegible comments. We discussed it and came to the conclusion that this feedback – if that’s what it was – was not very useful and that it was something that he – as an external examiner – should comment on. As I was leaving the office, I suddenly thought of something and went back to look at the text again. As I thought, the text was on formal examination paper and it was clear that the writing we had been looking at was an examination answer, something that the students would (might) never see again. It made me realise that comment/feedback on student writing – as with all writing – depends on purpose and audience, something that does not seem to have been discussed elsewhere. Continue reading